US taxpayers unknowingly paid millions to get Starlink terminals to Ukraine

SpaceX didn't foot the bill entirely by itself, according to documents.

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Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pledged to send Starlink internet terminals to the country. His company donated thousands of units and is covering the cost of the service for a few months. However, the US government reportedly paid millions for some of the terminals and to get them all to Ukraine, in spite of statements to the contrary from the company's president.

The United States Agency for International Development bought around 1,500 terminals at a cost of $1,500 each, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. It also covered transportation costs for all the terminals to the tune of $800,000, resulting in the agency shelling out over $3 million. In all, the agency and SpaceX sent more than 5,000 terminals to Ukraine, with a third-party contractor handling transportation and delivery.

It's unclear whether USAID paid over the odds for the terminals. SpaceX recently increased the price of a Starlink terminal from $499 to $549 for deposit holders and to $599 for fresh orders. As of April 22nd, the monthly price of the satellite-powered internet service is increasing from $99 to $110. The company announced a higher tier service earlier this year that costs $2,500 for a terminal and $500 per month for service.

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said last month that France and possibly Poland helped get the terminals to Ukraine. “I don’t think the US has given us any money to give terminals to the Ukraine,” Shotwell said. SpaceX is said to have donated $10 million worth of terminals and Starlink service to the country, which is laudable enough, though the company wasn't exactly clear about where funding for other parts of the operation came from.

On top of that, Musk had to issue a warning over the use of Starlink, given that Russia may be able to triangulate the location of a terminal uplink. Musk urged people to use Starlink only when needed and stay away from other people while doing so.

This isn't the first time that Musk has offered help during a crisis where his input hasn't gone without a hitch. In 2018, he took a mini-submarine to Thailand to assist with the rescue of 12 boys and their coach who were trapped in a cave. Not only were those people safely retrieved by the time he got there, the mini-sub was deemed impractical for the mission anyway.

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